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Oct 29 2012

Vacula: Ladies, Y U No Quit?

A week ago, I put up a post contradicting Justin Vacula’s suggestion that what the slimepit does is criticism rather than abuse. I noted then that I wondered whether he could tell the difference. I’m still wondering, even though he’s put up the post he’d been promising “on conflation of criticism with abuse and responsibility and the internet”…or at least left a comment on my post pointing to one of his.

What does his post have to say about the difference between the two? Well, nothing, actually:

Poster saying, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

Actual image used in Vacula’s post. In this post, however, clicking the picture will lead to the owner of the image.

It seems extremely obvious to me that people should consider the results of their actions before they make them and then act appropriately depending on various factors including their coping skills, past experiences, support systems, financial stability, etc. This line of reasoning is quite uncontroversial in some areas of the secular community when people consider ‘coming out’ as an atheist; many will say persons should not come out if they will have to face dire consequences for doing so. People who give this advice are almost never told they are ‘blaming the victim’ or ‘giving a warrant for bullies,’ but when the topic is changed to people who write on the internet — and often engage in vitriolic writing — all bets are off for some reason.

In fact, not only does this post not describe the difference between criticism and abuse, it seems to suggest the difference doesn’t matter.

Whether we consider classrooms, internet forums/blogs, or the hostile climate against atheists, it should be understood that nasty people exist. The nastiness is, of course, unfortunate. We can work to change this nastiness and hope that people will be nice, but this just isn’t the case and likely won’t be in the near future. We should, then, make responsible decisions based on our environments. If you don’t get along with another student in class, avoid interactions with that student. If you can’t handle negative feedback online and have received it many times, disengage and write about another topic (or stop writing).

Hey, ladies, are the people opposing you making an argument or are they saying that the only reason you’re taking action you think is important because your vibrator is broken? Oh, never mind. It doesn’t matter. Either way, you can’t work in these movements unless you can cope. To quote a beautifully succinct recent comment:

I think I’m finally getting it. The real message is “being a woman does not entitle you to protection from the extra hostility you get for being a woman.”

Right?

The problem isn’t just that Vacula’s post isn’t what it was promised to be. It isn’t just that it inanely ignores the realities of the situation we’re arguing over. His post is also incredibly self-serving.

Between my post and his, I attended CSICon. While there, I did what I usually do at conventions and conferences. I live-tweeted it so people who couldn’t make it could still get something out of the event or add something to it (both happened repeatedly last weekend). I started with the very first event on the schedule.

First up at #csicon: @' workshop talking about dealing with everyday nonsense.
@szvan
Stephanie Zvan

When I had the chance to check the hashtag search, I noticed something…odd, opportunistic, unhelpful, irrelevant to the hashtag on which it appeared, unprofessional. It was perplexing enough I didn’t quite know how to label it.

"@: First up at #csicon: @' workshop talking about dealing with everyday nonsense." - First "Build thyself a mirror"
@justinvacula
Justin Vacula

Vacula isn’t just some observer. He’s one of the people engaging in the abuse. He says “we” can work to change that abuse, but he won’t address his own. That means that for all his passive-voiced “nastiness happens”, what he’s really saying is, “If you don’t like it when I abuse you, stop what you’re doing.”

So the Skepchicks should stop giving people practical advice on how to fight superstition and irrationality among their friends, family, and communities? They should stop having breakout sessions in which people brainstorm how to make their activism more effective and how to measure their impact? They should stop handing out the wonderful and practical Skeptical Activism Campaign Manual that one of them helped to write? That’s what they were doing when Vacula made the choice to abuse them.

As for me, I should stop doing…what? I should stop live-tweeting conferences, for which both organizers and tweeps thank me? I should stop mentioning the Skepchicks, even when they’re giving great practical advice? I should stop tweeting? Stop being a woman on the internet? Stop–as Vacula actually says–writing?

Since Vacula can’t seem to figure it out himself, here’s the difference between criticism and abuse. Criticism is specific. Criticism of me deals with things I’ve said and done. Things I’ve really said and done, not nonsense made up by someone who doesn’t like me otherwise. Good criticism goes the extra step to explain why the problem behavior is bad.

Abuse isn’t specific. It doesn’t target behavior. Abuse of me targets me. It targets me no matter what I’m doing. It targets irrelevancies about me. Slapping my name on a criticism of behavior that isn’t mine is abuse. Making up stuff about my sex life is abuse. Slurs are abuse. Fat-shaming is abuse. Lying about me is abuse. Popping up to insult me when I’m doing nothing more than being visible is abuse.

The thing to remember about “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” is that the kitchen is hot because you use the stove and oven for cooking. The heat is a job requirement for a cook. It is directly relevant to cooking. In the form in which the phrase was coined, it referred to criticism.

What Vacula, and the people he encourages and excuses, are doing, however, isn’t criticism. To adapt Truman’s analogy, they’re setting the entire kitchen on fire and telling us to leave if we don’t like it. Then, when we try to put out the fire, they’re telling us we’re bad cooks.

Stopping the kitchen from burning down is exactly the appropriate reaction in that situation. Putting out the fire is required so that others can cook. It is the responsible decision.

So, you know, thanks for your concern and all, Justin, but we’re handling the situation just fine.

40 comments

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  1. 1
    dalehusband

    Well said. Justin Vacula is a bigoted fraud and should be thrown out of the atheist/secular/freethinking community completely. I’m sick of hearing about him!

  2. 2
    Stephanie Zvan

    I’m told he does important activist work locally. I’d be more than content to see him focus on that for a while.

  3. 3
    oolon

    Criticism in the slymepit, well 99% of Justin’s posts there are just promoting his posts or pointing to ones, like this, that mention him. I think he sees the pit as one of his PR outlets…
    http://slymepit.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=73&start=22500#p24205

  4. 4
    Matt Penfold

    I’m told he does important activist work locally. I’d be more than content to see him focus on that for a while.

    That might be rather unfair on women who are activists in his locality. Assuming he has not scared them all off.

  5. 5
    Stephanie Zvan

    I work with evangelical fundamentalist Christians. We all get on just fine when we we’re doing the work. It’s the socializing part that gets tricky.

  6. 6
    dalehusband

    I’m told he does important activist work locally. I’d be more than content to see him focus on that for a while.

    And that’s the same mistake that any faction makes when they tolerate or even encourage bigoted extremists among themselves; the result is that the bigots take over and push the cause to absurd lengths that makes it repulsive to people in the mainstream. One need only look at PETA and its insane advertising campaigns to see how it has destroyed the credibility of the animal rights movement. The same will happen to the freethought movement if we do not rid ourselves of anti-feminists like Justin Vacula and Thunderfoot.

  7. 7
    dalehusband

    In other words, we need to come right out and state that any atheist who is not a feminist is a threat to women who are atheists.

    BTW, I can speak without prejudice on this issue because I am a man.

  8. 8
    Stephanie Zvan

    Don’t confuse doing the basic work and setting the priorities and working conditions. This is why leadership is important. Someone who isn’t fit to lead can still make contributions.

  9. 9
    A. Noyd

    Wow, he is so fucking clueless, isn’t he? Facing “dire consequences” for admitting one’s atheism to non-atheists is not at all the same as taking mountains of hatred from people within one’s chosen community for being an outspoken woman and/or feminist. And he can’t see he’s cast himself in the role analogous to the theists who fire atheists or send their atheist children to Jesus camp.

  10. 10
    dalehusband

    Don’t confuse doing the basic work and setting the priorities and working conditions.

    OK, I won’t. But I will note that you are much more generous than I’ve ever been.

    This is why leadership is important. Someone who isn’t fit to lead can still make contributions.

    Yes, but if he also engages in abusive behavior, it makes all of us look bad. No man (or woman) is an island; we are all connected to each other in some way.

  11. 11
    Raging Bee

    If you can’t handle negative feedback online and have received it many times, disengage and write about another topic (or stop writing).

    In other words, beneath all the pompous word-salad and hemming, hawing and hand-waving, all he’s saying is “If you’re getting abuse from anyone, it’s your fault and you should just go away.”

    And he’s pretending to care about atheists who get abused by religious bigots?

    I’m told he does important activist work locally. I’d be more than content to see him focus on that for a while.

    I’d be “more than content” to hear his apologists describe what, exactly, he does that’s so wonderful, and why he can’t do that wunnerful work without heaping pointless abuse on others.

    I’m just speaking for myself here, but if I was doing good work for others that I wanted people to notice and give me credit for, the LAST thing I’d do is distract attention away from that work by acting like a junior-high Taliban wannabee. Whatever this Vaculous guy is doing, he must not be all that serious about it.

  12. 12
    Stephanie Zvan

    Yes, but if he also engages in abusive behavior, it makes all of us look bad.

    Sure, but I’m suggesting I’d be happy if he focused on activism instead of doing that.

  13. 13
    morrighan

    I have issues with this:

    This line of reasoning is quite uncontroversial in some areas of the secular community when people consider ‘coming out’ as an atheist; many will say persons should not come out if they will have to face dire consequences for doing so

    Basically, by comparing the two situation, he’s saying that if someone comes out as an atheist and receives abuse for this, HIS reaction would be to go to them and yell “You should’ve shut up!”, instead of offering support and doing something to stop the abuse.
    How nice…

  14. 14
    Matt Penfold

    Yes, but if he also engages in abusive behavior, it makes all of us look bad. No man (or woman) is an island; we are all connected to each other in some way.

    And I am not entirely sure how women might feel comfortable working with him, even if he is not in a position of leadership.

    I not a woman, and I don’t I think I would want to work with him.

  15. 15
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    Duh! Cope with it – don’t talk about it or share coping strategies where we can hear you. (IOW – shut up and listen to my glorious strawmen.)

  16. 16
    Jasper of Maine

    If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. away from the swarms of sentient fireballs that will mercilessly hunt you down where ever you go, chasing you into a hole in the ground, and keeping guard at the entrance to that hole in case you ever dare stick your head out again.

  17. 17
    jhendrix

    I’m a fan of Justin’s work in engaging and refuting theists.

    But this article is just straight up wrong. Applying the “if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen” to the stupid and unjustifiable trolling/insults you guys get is absolutely crazy.

    The logic has its place if you’re getting involved in something like standup or MMA fighting; but in a discussion of ideas? What better way to get things to stagnate?

  18. 18
    SallyStrange

    Justin lives about an hour away from where I live. I admit, it has made me wary about attending regional atheist meetups. I’ve met a few local atheists, and they were pretty cool, but then we haven’t had much chance to discuss the whole Woman Thing that the atheist community is dealing with right now. We’ll see. I’ve been very involved with local elections and haven’t had much time for atheist gatherings lately. After the election I plan to attend more and find out what I can find out.

  19. 19
    smhll

    I think you did a good job distinguishing between criticism and abuse.

    Also, thank you for live tweeting at conferences. For those of us who aren’t geographically convenient and can’t afford travel, it’s nice to have a form of virtual participation.

  20. 20
    Ophelia Benson

    what he’s really saying is, “If you don’t like it when I abuse you, stop what you’re doing.”

    Damn, I wish I’d said that.

    And thanks again for the livetweeting. I relied on it heavily, especially on Saturday when my portion of the abuse had succeeded in getting me down.

  21. 21
  22. 22
    Jessie

    I see how this works now, so thanks Justin:
    If you are old and can’t cope with being attacked by other people, don’t leave the house.
    If you have restricted mobility and can’t cope with being attacked by other people, don’t leave the house.
    If you are a child and can’t cope with being attacked by other people, don’t leave the house.

    It’s easy when you lack empathy.

  23. 23
    Bjarte Foshaug

    If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

    As Stephanie points out, it’s funny how the people who spout this favorite line of psychos and bullies, always just happen to be the same people who went out of their way to heat the kitchen in the first place and will even follow you out of the kitchen to make sure the heat follows you wherever you go. Of course, if the “kitchen” is everywhere – as it pretty much is when talking about cyber-bullying – the message basically boils down to “Go kill yourself!”

    As I have previously written elsewhere, I used to think that charges of social Darwinism was just something that religious people liked to hurl at atheists to poison the well. When that queen of awesomeness Susan Jacoby referred to the “group of modern-day social Darwinists who make up one component of the secular movement”, I assumed she was simply talking about libertarians. To be sure, those of my friends who (unlike me) self-identify as libertarians do indeed tend to suffer from the “just world” fallacy according to which success, fortune, and happiness are best seen as a reward for diligence, strength of character, and having the right attitude whereas failure, misfortune, and unhappiness are a punishment for laziness, a weak character, and bad attitudes.

    But what we have here seems to go far beyond even that. When bullies like Vacula spout the line about the heat and the kitchen, what they really seem to be saying is that only those who can be expected to positively thrive in a perfectly amoral and unjust world (the one they are actively working to bring about) have any business existing at all. Ironically, this is the kind of social-Darwinist dystopia that religious people hold up as one of the frightening consequences of atheism, and there’s nothing I hate more than seeing other atheists hand their points to them on a silver plate like Vacula is doing every time he opens his mouth.

  24. 24
    ischemgeek

    Oh, I get it now, Mr Vacula! It must be my ladybrains – I should have known that the price for wanting to say things on the internet while in possession of tits is harrassment and abuse and death threats. And of course it’s perfectly alright for people to do that to me. I am trying to be a woman in a Man Zone, after all. Golly gosh! How dare I expect to have my ideas addressed and not my gender! Silly me!

  25. 25
    Gretchen

    Bjarte Foshaug, I thought Stephanie’s clarification of the distinction between criticism and abuse was clear, eloquent, and dead-on accurate. There is no need to expand on it into the realm of pure speculation by ascribing abusive behavior to particular political groups you happen to dislike. Abusers come in all political persuasions. Seizing on particular instances of people being assholes and saying “Oh, they must be members of X party!” accomplishes nothing aside from alienating non-asshole members of X party.

  26. 26
    Deen

    many will say persons should not come out if they will have to face dire consequences for doing so. People who give this advice are almost never told they are ‘blaming the victim’ or ‘giving a warrant for bullies,’

    Seems like someone doesn’t understand what ‘blaming the victim’ is. Recognizing that a victim may not be in a position to fight back is pretty much the opposite of blaming the victim. After all, it identifies the situation the victim is in as the problem, not the victim’s own behaviour.

    If you can’t handle negative feedback online and have received it many times, disengage and write about another topic (or stop writing).

    And here I thought these people considered themselves the Protectors of Free Speech… Funny how that works.

  27. 27
    Bjarte Foshaug

    @Gretchen, what I was trying (and apparently failing spectacularly) to say was that my first reaction was probably wrong and the social Darwinists referred to by Jacoby are not just libertarians. What we have here is more like social darwinism in the literal, original sense, or at least something very similar.

  28. 28
    w00dview
    If you can’t handle negative feedback online and have received it many times, disengage and write about another topic (or stop writing).

    And here I thought these people considered themselves the Protectors of Free Speech… Funny how that works.

    Oh but you see, Deen they are! Here is how it works.

    The free speech crusader says something which anyone with a functional sense of empathy would find abbhorent: Brave defender of liberty practicing their first amendment right!

    Someone disagrees with this statement or just acknowledges that xe is a fucking asshole for saying what xe just said: Evil, jackbooted tyrant who wants to crush our rights to demean people without consequence speak the truth!

    Now you know that the slymepitters are people with a consistent set of ethics who don’t change them when it becomes convenient for them to do so!

  29. 29
    sarahmoglia

    Right, that’s why all the harassment of Jen stopped as soon as she stopped blogging.

    Oh wait.

  30. 30
    G Pierce (Was ~G~)

    Hey Jessica Ahlquist- Remember when you were bullied so badly for challenging the prayer banner you came home every day crying? And had to change schools? And had to be protected by body guards? You should have just shut the hell up about that bullying and withdrawn your lawsuit. Or so would say Justin.

    Nice to know any kids out there considering following in Jessica’s footsteps will be given this advice by at least one fellow atheist. Hey atheist kids who are given death threats for standing up for my constitutional rights, don’t complain about it or try to stop it, or call it out or try to get social support, get the hell out of the kitchen and STFU.

    Yes, his analogy put him in the place of the theists. I’m not sure if he was too short-sighted to realize this or doesn’t care. And no, I wouldn’t want to be in a group with him, either.

  31. 31
    Eneraldo Carneiro

    Let me get this straight: this guy about whom is said that “does important activist work locally”, just make an analogy between the vitriol outspoken women have been recceiving, inclusive from him, with what atheists get when they ‘come out’?? Really?
    Funny.
    I’ve thought that the shit atheists get when they reveal themselves as atheists was just one of the things that we all wanted to CHANGE…
    I mean…WOW! Is that right? Maybe I misread something… no english native-speaker..etc..

  32. 32
    FelixBC

    I think what Vacula is getting at here is that we have two choices: speak up and take the abuse, or shut up. Either way, the world is the way it is, and we cannot change it. We certainly cannot, ever, speak up to change the world and the abuse women get for speaking up. It’s his system, and we just live in it.

  33. 33
    No Light

    get the hell out of the kitchen and STFU.

    But ~G~, if we no stay in kitchen, how we bitchez ‘posed to maek sammich???

    Fematheism iz harrrd

  34. 34
    abear

    Giving all praise and thanks to Methodological Naturalism that there is no dearth of drampire hunters!

  35. 35
    Kevin K

    I think you’re defending him and you shouldn’t.

    You’re enabling him by defending him.

    He’s an asshole who shouldn’t be anywhere near rational people. He should be ignored and ostracized.

    Period.

  36. 36
    hjhornbeck

    I can’t help but note that Zvan is going easier on Vacula than most of the commenters here.

    That isn’t a criticism, I just find it ironic that the Slyme Pit is directing their energy at Zvan, and ignoring the harsher critics. I think that says a fair bit about their mindset.

  37. 37
    reinderdijkhuis

    The interesting thing is that Vacula is or used to be a member of the Facebook group that supports Jessica Ahlquist. Apparently, in Vaculaland, bullying someone into silence is wrong if theists do it, but IOKIYA an atheist.

  38. 38
    medivh

    @hjhornbeck, #36:
    It could also be explained by prioritising the louder voices over the quieter ones, regardless of how much harder the quieter voices are going. I mean, it just looks petty for someone to complain about “this guy ‘medivh’ who comments on Almost Diamonds”, for example, when the author of same is also calling out the complainer.

    While the mindset of the slymepitters is quite clear, I’m not sure this particular prioritisation says anything about it.

  39. 39
    Miriam, Professional Fun-Ruiner

    The interesting thing is that Vacula is or used to be a member of the Facebook group that supports Jessica Ahlquist. Apparently, in Vaculaland, bullying someone into silence is wrong if theists do it, but IOKIYA an atheist.

    Oh no, it’s not that. It’s that Jessica wasn’t fighting for TEH EVIL FEMINAZISM, so bullying her is wrong. /sarcasm

  40. 40
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    I’ve thought that the shit atheists get when they reveal themselves as atheists was just one of the things that we all wanted to CHANGE…

    Oh, no, Vacula is all about that shit. How is he supposed to be a brave martyr if he doesn’t take shit for being an atheist?

    It would be the greatest letdown of his life if all the religious folk stopped persecuting atheists.

  1. 41
    The Fallacy of Generalization from Fictional Evidence. (a.k.a. Harrison Bergeron) | Ashley Miller

    [...] those who can’t handle the heat should get out of the kitchen, (an idea which Stephanie excellently skewers here), that is ableism. Have breakdowns? Oh, it’s because you couldn’t handle controversy. [...]

  2. 42
    What Melody Hensley Has to Teach You About Professionalism » Almost Diamonds

    [...] nice to Vacula, but really, I think a bullying campaign generally has to consist of more than answering when someone asks me what I think of something or standing up for upset people who don’t have a platform of their own. Of course, in this [...]

  3. 43
    Think About the Consequences! » Almost Diamonds

    [...] Admittedly, I’d already considered Vacula’s “advice” to be so much self-serving bullshit, but it’s worth checking the math every now and [...]

  4. 44
    Why We Get Harassed » Almost Diamonds

    [...] Vacula: Ladies, Y U No Quit? [...]

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